Empower Students with a Growth Mindset

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”

James 1:2-3 NIV

     Learning about and teaching students about cultivating a growth mindset is relatively new in education. We often have the perceived notion that if students just work harder that they will get it right. What we as educators sometimes miss out on are opportunities to teach students how to persevere through challenges they face on a daily basis. We want students to have grit and to stick it out, but this sounds easier than it really is. This is a process that happens over time. Just like teaching behavior expectations during the first week of school, we have to explicitly teach students how to create a positive mindset. Explaining the power of “yet” will help give students the drive to tackle challenges within and outside of your classroom.

What is the Difference Between a Fixed and Growth Mindset?

     Dr. Carol Dweck, a leading researcher from Stanford University, discusses the concept of a growth mindset in her book titled, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. In her book, she describes that there are two types of mindsets we can have, a fixed and a growth mindset. A fixed mindset, Dr. Dweck describes, is a way of thinking that intelligence is static, or cannot be changed. A growth mindset, on the other hand, is when we believe that we do have control over our learning, goals, and our potential. Below is a representation of Dr. Dweck’s principles and a video of her work:

Laying the Foundation for a Growth Mindset

1. Give Sincere Feedback and Praise

  It has been proven that students get little feedback from letter or number grades alone. They see that overall that they got it, or they still don’t get it. Students need feedback to pinpoint where their mistakes are. If students have real and positive feedback instead of just a grade, the student may be more likely to meet with you and make necessary corrections.  According to John Hattie, researcher, and author of Visible Learning, states that along with direct instruction, meaningful feedback has one of the highest impacts on student motivation and academic achievement. Students will know when you are not being sincere about your praise and feedback, and they may be less likely to put forth the needed effort to sustain the task. Here are some free resources and sentence starters to get you practicing with your students this week. Some of these sentence starters include:

  • “Let me add some more information to help you learn this.”
  • “That is a tough task you have been working on for a while. What strategies have you tried so far and how can I help you move along in the process?”
  • I can see a difference in your work from previous tasks. I like how you have ___________.”
  • “Next time you have a challenge like this, what strategies might you use?”

2.  Allow time for Student Talk

     Growing up, I remember that my teachers were always at the front of the room and if we talked we had to raise our hands and our response would be only to the teacher. This can be pretty intimidating for students who are shy or do not feel they can contribute to class discussions. There were always 2-3 students who always answered the questions and the rest of us sat back and listened. This can lead to students feeling like they do not have a voice in the class or are not smart enough to contribute. Get students involved by talking with their peers in class.  Student talk gives students an opportunity to talk to smaller peer groups, which allows all voices to be heard. Some ways to help reluctant students become more involved in accountable student talk are:

  • Asking students to discuss their task with a partner, and be ready to share their groups thinking. (Allows the group to own the answer rather than one person)
  • Have student A share with person B. Person B will then share out with the class. (This helps everyone have a chance to share rather than one person).
  • If a student gives a vague answer you could simply respond, “Could you tell me more about that?

3. Model and Practice Using “Yet”

     In order to empower students with a growth mindset, just like anything, it takes some time and practice. It starts with the educators, parents, and community members to model a positive mindset. You will have to practice alongside your students before it becomes a natural habit. Be honest with your students or child and say that you are learning right alongside them and you want to see them reach their highest potential. According to Dweck, the word “yet” added to the end of your sentence will turn the negative connotation of the sentence into a positive one. Try a few of these by adding “yet” to the end:

  • “I am not good at drawing…yet.”
  • “I haven’t gotten an A in this class…yet.”
  • “I don’t know how to add fractions…yet.”
  • “I am not a good reader…yet.”
  • “I haven’t made the basketball team…yet.”

     Using “yet” might feel a bit awkward and corny at first, but I have tried it with many of my students and the more they talk positively about themselves and the challenges they are facing, the more motivated and encouraged they are to accept the new challenges. Continue to develop and build class culture using a positive mindset.

     The power of “yet” is not something that all students will come to school with. If we teach our students and work on it together with them throughout the year, they will be better equipped to face challenges inside and outside of your classroom. Here are some more resources for elementary and secondary teachers with lessons and activities to help you get started today with your class.

Want More Strategies and Support Each Week?

Do you go into the classroom on Monday overwhelmed at the week ahead of you? The Momentum Monday newsletter is like a Snickers bar for teachers. Each week, there is great information for what you need right now in your classroom. There are student engagement strategies, teacher self-care, a teacher tech tip, and a Q & A section with actual questions that I have received from teachers. Click to view the latest issue of Momentum Monday and subscribe to future issues and view our past issues!

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